When the Atlanta Hawks slipped into the NBA Playoffs as the eight seed in the Eastern Conference, no one thought they had much chance to advance. Certainly no one expected them to push the top seeded Indiana Pacers to the brink, taking a 3-2 series lead into game six in Atlanta. Though the Hawks eventually came up short, losing the final two games to the Pacers, they definitely made everyone stand up and take notice. While there were a number of strong performances in the series, the most impressive came from Jeff Teague.
Teague had a solid 2013-14 season, averaging 16.5 points and 6.7 assists per game; well above his career averages of 10.6 and 4.6, respectively. Actually Teague’s numbers have gotten better every year since the Hawks drafted him 19th overall out of Wake Forest in 2009. After averaging 18.8 points per game as a senior with the Demon Deacons, he joined Atlanta as the backup to veteran Mike Bibby. When Bibby was traded to Washington in 2011, the Hawks handed Teague the keys.
In his first season as a starter, Teague averaged 12.6 points and 4.9 assists. In 2012-13, he improved in both categories, averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 assists. It was apparent that he was Atlanta’s future at point guard, but when the 2014 playoffs began, Teague quickly made it clear that the future was now.
In game one, he led all scorers with 28 points in leading the Hawks to a 101-93 win. Then, in game three he had another big night, scoring 22 points and dishing out 10 assists as Atlanta won 98-85. After the two teams split games four and five, Teague almost single-handedly kept the Hawks in the game with a career-high 29 points.
Despite the seven game loss to Indiana, the series was something of a coming out party for Teague. His scoring average of 19.3 was nearly three points per game more than during the regular season. He also averaged five assists per game. But beyond the numbers, there were times when he appeared nearly unstoppable. In and Atlanta offense based mostly on outside shooting, he was often the only option in the paint.
If Teague can continue to develop, the Hawks could be a major player in the Eastern Conference in the coming years. Coach Mike Budenholzer has his team playing team basketball, and believing that they can compete with anyone. While Atlanta would greatly benefit from adding a star, the return of Al Horford, who missed most of 2013-14 with a torn pectoral muscle, will definitely help.
With Teague, Horford, Paul Milsap, and a system the players have bought into, the future looks bright in Atlanta.